“I shall borrow this lovely quote from the Dalai Lama: ‘Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck’”, says Deborah Medhurst, the dynamic founder of childrenswear brand The Middle Daughter...
And she’s speaking from experience – back in January 2018, she unexpectedly had to close her childrenswear brand No Added Sugar after 17 years of trading. Now, she lives by the wisdom that everything is impermanent, the good and the bad, which has put her in good stead for coping with COVID-19. “On our life journeys things don’t go to plan and we have to change course, often many times, and in doing so we experience new things that would not have come our way had we stayed where we were. I truly believe that suffering can be transformative if we allow it. To stay open-minded to the possibility that this could be a brilliant new beginning; when all seems lost and you begin again from nothing, the opportunities are infinite,” she says.
Last year, Medhurst and her husband launched The Middle Daughter, a girlswear brand for ages 2 -14 years. “From running the same business for 17 years I think I was unconsciously longing to start something new, to have that intoxicating experience again,” she says. The range is chic yet playful and designed for girls who adore fashion. At home in isolation, we spoke to Medhurst about her incredible career journey and also her musings on motherhood.
When you had your first baby in 2000 you, in your own words, “quickly discovered that the kids fashion land was as dull as dishwasher”. How would you describe kids fashion land these days?
In a similar analogy, I’d say a wash load that has had too much detergent added! It is now very much a crowded market but that’s not a bad thing; for a consumer, whatever your style, budget, or ethical standing there is a plethora of options. For a brand, it’s highly competitive but that drives creativity thus making the market so much more interesting. It keeps us all on our toes, complacency is never a good thing.
In January 2018 you unexpectedly had to close No Added Sugar after 17 years of trading – right now, so many businesses will need to close due to COVID-19. What’s your advice to those who will have to close their business and what did your own experience teach you? You’ve said “I believe a crisis can be liberating”…
The loss of our business, and livelihood, was devastating. So I know it is no easy feat to manage the emotions and practicalities of having to close a business. Each of us will cope in varying ways. During that time I quite often felt like I’d jumped off a cliff.
However I believe the experience taught me so many invaluable lessons. In the midst of the crisis I learned to just accept how things were and to not wallow in the injustice. Trying to figure out the big picture was too scary so I didn’t try. I consciously took one day at a time and that made life manageable. I live by the wisdom that everything is impermanent, the good and the bad, so I knew it would pass. I had to trust in that. It kept me lifted when I could easily have given in to darkness and despair.
Coming through this has replenished my self-belief. Just knowing that I can find a way through has fed my resilience and made me so much less fearful of everything. It has also given me greater humility and a deeper sense of gratitude. Without a doubt I am in a better place for the experience.
My advice would be to not view this situation as a disaster. On our life journeys things don’t go to plan and we have to change course, often many times, and in doing so we experience new things that would not have come our way had we stayed where we were. I truly believe that suffering can be transformative if we allow it. To stay open-minded to the possibility that this could be a brilliant new beginning; when all seems lost and you begin again from nothing, the opportunities are infinite.
When you launched The Middle Daughter you said: “We are less obsessed about building an empire and more inspired to unleash this new girl with lashings of mischief!” – tell me about your ambitions for The Middle Daughter…
I felt in that sentiment that the ambitions I had had with my previous business were no longer dictating how I drove the direction of this brand and my life. I was very driven, a workaholic, and I strongly felt that this way of being had not served me well. In creating The Middle Daughter it was a new mindset; to relax, be playful, enjoy the journey, and see what happens. I don’t have any great vision with the brand other than to enjoy each day, for our team to feel vital and inspired in being a part of it, and to please our customers with both product and care. Simple aspirations.
This is you and your husband’s third brand-building venture together. What’s it like working with your husband and what tips do you have to others working with their partner?
We have worked together for 30 years so have pretty much ironed out most issues by now! In the early days, pre-kids, we were super competitive with each other but once our first boy was born I had to learn to let go. We do disagree, often, and that can cause a lot of angst. We have to be super-mindful to respond professionally not as a husband and wife! Those are the moments when I long for a third partner, having another point of view to bring some balance, even if they don’t agree with me!
There have been a few times in our working life when I instinctively knew a decision was wrong but couldn’t justify the logic. Consequently I gave in, only later to wince at the impact of that wrong decision. Listening to your gut is without a doubt the right thing.
We have clearer roles now more than ever. We have always been so close, both romantically and professionally that it’s easy to do everything together but having that separation of responsibilities in the business is healthy. We’re also pretty good at not taking disagreements home. Once we leave our desks we move on in every way. Working with one’s partner doesn’t suit everybody but we have found a good balance and we’ll never be one of those couples sat at a table not having anything to say, it’s more that we’re fighting to get a word in!
The Middle Daughter is exclusively a girlswear brand for ages 2 -14 years – describe the kind of girl who wears your brand...
I’d say she is spirited, curious, conscious, and loves fashion!
What differentiates the childrenswear brands that work vs the ones that don’t make it?
A point of difference. Passion. Resilience. Money helps.
What’s it like as a working mother in isolation right now?
I actually love it. The relaxed way of working has been a tonic. To lose the clock watching and not having to be somewhere is free-ing. Our factories have been closed in lockdowns too so the workload that that usually presents has almost diminished. My assistant and I are working remotely and our warehouse is a few doors from our house so as a family business we can easily continue to operate our webstore. My boys are teenagers so they are more independent and need less intervention. We can all work on our various pursuits alongside each other and be pretty productive. We come together for lunch which can be uplifting or gruelling, depending on their moods!